“The first experience can never be repeated. The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched a virginity of sense”
Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas
Waxing lyrical in my emails home on the Pacific Crossing, my brother dubbed me the Poet of the South Seas, but when it comes to Fatu Hiva, words fail, and I am lucky to have Robert Louis Stevenson here to get the ball rolling. We were truly South Sea virgins. It was less than a year since Xavier and I had decided to go for it and circumnavigate the world. Since then life has been a whirligig, juggling all the logistics and emotions involved in this sailing adventure. We were (and still are!) winging it, so it is fair to say that nothing prepared us for the Marquesas.
Fatu Hiva, then, is where we lost our heart to Polynesia. One of the most remote islands in the world, there are a couple of other factors that isolate the island still further. First, there is no local airport, and, I believe, only one pension, so any tourism comes predominantly from cruisers. Second, many cruisers bypass the island as it is not possible to check in with immigration there, but if you go to Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva or Ua Pou first to do so, it is unlikely you will track back against the (invariably) headlong winds. We met one boat that did attempt it, but gave up after covering only 4 nautical miles in 9 hours. Then on the crossing, we were forwarded an official round robin email warning of fines and penalties if protocol was ignored, however, at a seminar for Polynesia-bound cruisers back in Shelter Bay, Panama, we were advised, unofficially, not to miss the island, under any circumstances, and had it on good authority that as long as you kept the visit short and sweet, there would not be a problem.
Hanavave, or The Bay of Virgins, is simply jaw-dropping. Situated at the foot of a valley flanked by towering mountains, phallic rock formations that inspired its name (see previous post), the cliffs resemble the faces of old men in profile, like the guardians of this virgin isle or some natural Mount Rushmore.
Within an hour of arriving at the Bay of Virgins, we were on shore, reunited with our friends on RAFTKIN and meeting Anne and Jean-Pierre, a retired French couple from LE RAYON VERT, the embodiment of Gallic joie de vivre. Together we set off on an hour and a half trek to the fabled waterfall, picking up mangoes from the ground as snacks along the way. As I understand it, gathering any fruit on the island is tapu (taboo), except for mangoes, which are so plentiful the islanders, who rarely eat them themselves, feed them to the pigs. We were graced with many other fruits, bananas, limes and pomelos, by the islanders themselves, and gave fishing tackle in return, highly appreciated. By the end of the first day our fruit nets had been not only replenished, but were even more bountiful than when we had set off fully stocked from the Galapagos, testimony to the generosity of the islanders.